This has been a good summer. In our part of the world (Prince George, British Columbia), the weather has been fairly cool and wet for much of the time. We have enjoyed immensely our backyard with its garden and rich green grass. In contrast to pervious summers, it’s been nice not being preoccupied with all the hazards associated with forest fires in our province. The air has been fresh and life-giving. Also this summer, we’ve had a nice balance of spending time with family and friends who’ve come to visit, or whom we’ve had the privilege of visiting. And for me personally, there have been a variety of ministry opportunities in our community, both privately and publicly. We feel very blessed.
I’ve also had occasion this summer to think a lot about the nature of the church in these times, my relationship to it, and my role in it. For the past dozen years or so, I’ve had the privilege of serving (in as many churches) as a transition pastor in places as diverse as Kitimat and Saskatoon, Fort McMurray and Cranbrook, Vanderhoof and Innisfail. This has been a delightful and most fulfilling experience in many ways. Time away from home for about two weeks or more each month (during my actual time of service in each church) has been substantially compensated by many rich rewards in other ways.
I’ve enjoyed learning about new communities in our country, for example, and about the richness of the people’s lives who live there. I’ve learned that every place has both its attractions and challenges. Though each place has its unique culture, I’ve also found that the people in all these places have much in common. Some communities may be somewhat more materially prosperous than others, but the personal issues are often the same. People everywhere are dealing with the challenges of daily employment, with family relationships, with illness, and the changing face of our society. Typically, there is a diversity of ages, each with its own peculiar preoccupations and interests. I have loved seeing the energy and optimism of the younger generation with their emerging families. Those with teens have the usual emotional volatility peculiar to that time in life. And the seniors are taken up with financial security, often illnesses of one kind or another, some travel, and ministering to the needs of their expanding families.
It’s been so interesting witnessing the interplay of all these personal dynamics in the various churches that I have had the privilege of serving. The church is a place of common grace and faith where people come from all kinds of circumstances. It is the one place where, potentially at least, there is the grandest opportunity for genuine community among the most diverse elements of society and culture. It is there in the church that peoples of every age, amazingly, are able to find true spiritual connection. This is because of spiritual oneness brought about by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ. It is what St. Paul is talking about in Ephesians 1-3. Beyond God’s intention for the nuclear family, the church is the most beautiful society in all the world. And this is God’s plan for any particular church.
But the church is never something static. Because all Christian believers are at various places on their spiritual journeys, with more or less understanding of God’s intentions for them based on the Holy Scriptures, and because they all are still subject to temptation and sin, there is lots of opportunity for differences within the church. It soon becomes evident in any particular church that there are varying degrees of success in regard to God’s intentions for it. As in the case of the early church, some are closer to the mark than others. This is also evident in Jesus’ evaluation of the churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3. A couple of them (Sardis and Philadelphia) seem to be doing much better than the others because they have no serious deficits. But some of the others have important issues that need to be addressed.
In my experience, I have found that some of the churches with which I have worked are stronger and more spiritually focused than others — sometimes challenging my own sense of faith and commitment. Others have bigger issues with which to deal — perhaps because they have become a bit too proud of their past accomplishments. Churches today, it seems, are often diverse from one another in these ways. It is the challenge of pastoral leaders and the elders with whom they work to ensure that the church is seeking to conform to what has been outlined in Scripture. Often we speak and think of this matter in terms of a church’s true sense of vision for its ministry. Is there a clear understanding and commitment to the authority of the Bible as well as the Gospel of which it speaks? How is this reflected in the unspoken values of the church that underlie the nature of its day-to-day culture? How are biblical vision and values evident in the church’s worship, its understanding and experience of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, its sense of true community, and its commitment and efforts to reach out with the Gospel to the community and the world? How are the members or participants in the church being guided to serve the vision of the church according to the spiritual gifts that they have been given? These are some of the questions that we seek to address in an assessment time between pastoral leaders. But they are important questions to consider at any time in the life of the church.
Too often, it seems to me, churches are taken up with maintaining an established routine whose elements may have lost their meaning because of a lack of true biblical vision and the intentionality that accompanies it. They may easily become satisfied with some semblance of worship, preaching, community, and ministry without considering how these could ultimately be more meaningful for everyone involved and more fruitful in terms of the church’s real reason for existence.
With regard to my role at this time in my life, I hope I can continue to be an encouragement to ordinary Christian believers, to church leaders, and to churches in enabling them to be all that God has called them to be. Whether I am working formally in pastoral transition (or in other ways) or not, I hope I can relate to the church in general and to individual churches in such a way that I am able to help them become more succcessful in what God intends for them. Largely because our western society has become increasingly secular, these are very challenging times for the church. More than ever, Christian leaders need to know how to lead in a way that calls people back to the authority of the Bible and the essentail nature of the Gospel. By God’s grace, I will continue to seek to serve the church to this end.